You don’t have to travel 4,000 miles for an authentic Mediterranean meal. “Ocean-to-table” offerings at Massa’ Coastal Italian Cuisine in Mamaroneck utilize the freshest fish straight from the source.
The langoustines I enjoyed for lunch one summer afternoon were flown in directly from Europe. Prepared simply with salt, pepper, and a little bit of notably high quality olive oil, this sweeter shellfish was flawlessly executed. Langoustines are not a fixture on many local menus, and I relished in the opportunity to savor them here.
Much of the seafood Massa’ Coastal sources comes from towns spanning several countries along the Mediterranean. These fish are flown in fresh, not frozen, three or four times per week from the restaurant’s various contacts at fisheries in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. All are line or net caught. Massa’ serves American fish, too, which are handpicked from the New Fulton Fish Market at Hunts Point. Most fish are prepared using very few ingredients, as the kitchen feels it best not to mess with what nature has already perfected.
Naturally, executive chefs and owners—a father-son team—Pasquale and Francesco Coli come are big fish lovers. For Francesco, this passion dates back to his upbringing along the water in Puglia, Italy. As a child, he spent a considerable amount of time catching fish in the Mediterranean with a spear gun.
Pasquale worked for nine years as a chef on Italian cruise ships and two subsequent years as a proprietor of his own restaurant, Michelangelo. Inspiration for Massa’—both at its prior Scarsdale location and its current Mamaroneck address—was born from the combination of these experiences.
When I arrived for lunch, Francesco was behind the bar adding more pineapple chunks to a large jug of homemade infused vodka. He leaves the alcohol soaking for at least twenty-four hours in order to achieve the desired effect, but some of his concoctions require a full forty-eight hours. Other fruits Francesco often employs are watermelon and mixed berries, and he has recently been serving a coconut infused rum. He tries to make use of what’s in season in both food and drink selections.
After my first course of langoustines, Francesco brought me branzino, a popular and permanent menu staple. The man beside me at the bar was already eating his own. He shared that he often comes to Massa’ with friends and instructs Francesco to “make whatever” for the table—but the branzino is a favorite of his. This customer also noted that Massa’ is a little out of his way, but he makes it at point to come as much as possible.
Given the ever-changing menu, one could in fact dine here daily and have a different experience. Massa’ can serve as both a special occasion place and an extension of guests’ homes. Francesco’s jovial demeanor is very inviting; he was quite friendly with everyone, and I was not surprised to learn he has many regular customers. He’s a funny, approachable guy whom I really enjoyed getting to know.
The branzino is cooked with assorted vegetables in parchment paper, which steams the fish and locks in all of the flavor. As I enjoyed the dish, I watched Francesco masterfully filet another fish for nearby guests and top it with capers. Francesco reminded me that both fish, like most he serves, are grilled simply to produce a taste evocative of the sea—the taste on which he was raised.
As Francesco does not rely on many ingredients in his cooking, he said that a very sharp knife is the one item his kitchen could not survive without. In his personal diet, as much as he loves seafood, he could never subsist without really good bread.
My meal concluded with a piping hot bag of zeppole served with a hazelnut dipping sauce. I struggled tremendously to restrain myself from consuming all six that came in the order! These classic Italian doughy balls were an impressive finish to a delicious meal from the less-than-a-year-old Massa’ Coastal.
I was told there’s more to look forward to than seasonal menu tweaks: on the horizon for Francesco and his restaurant is a “Massa’ Living” e-commerce site. It will feature items like homemade pastas, tomato sauces, and olive oils from Umbria and Puglia. Once launched, everyone can bring a little taste of southeastern Italy into the kitchen.